Storytellers Project to present five stories of home and family

Chanda McGuffin’s dad affectionately called her Lil’ Warrior when she went off to college.

He wanted her to be strong as she entered adulthood and embarked on her own life.

But he also needed to be strong as he waged war against his personal demons.

“I never doubted he loved me,” said McGuffin, 49, of Waynesboro, Virginia. “He just did not know how to be a father or husband. Then, he compounded it by drinking.”

McGuffin will share her story of home, and the impact her father had on her — in life and in death — as part of the USA TODAY Network’s Storytellers Project show on Oct. 19.

“My father had great strength and resilience. He poured himself into AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) for the next 25 years before his death. I didn’t realize the lives he truly impacted until he passed away,” she said. “Many would come to me in the months following his death to share with me how my dad never gave up on their sobriety.”

Tune in online at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET. Register in advance to receive a reminder and watch on USA TODAY’s Facebook page, YouTube channel or website.

McGuffin will be joined by:

  • Ashley Harbinson, 37, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • Leesa McGregor, 44, Vancouver, Canada.
  • Dawn Olsen, 33, of Indianapolis.
  • Sean Ewart, 52, of Los Angeles.

Harbinson’s story is one that might feel familiar to many parents. Her story is about how her anxiety intensified when she found out she was pregnant.

“When the pregnancy test said, ‘Wowee, you’re pregnant,’ I ditched the booze for smoothies, read the books, watched natural birth documentaries and took the classes,” she said facetiously. 

But Harbinson wasn’t totally kidding. She really did prepare diligently.

“My husband and I met with doulas, made plans for a natural, and maybe even a home, birth. We decided with confidence this would be a beautiful experience that would only deepen our connection.

“Well, none of that happened,” Harbinson said

Her story is about everything that happened after. 

Olsen will reflect on what it was like to leave her 900-person Iowa hometown, the kind with no stoplights.  

“All I knew is that I wanted out,” she said of her hometown of Treynor. “I used to imagine myself living in a city, somewhere like Boston or New York or Chicago. I would be coming up from the train, a cup of coffee in my hand and an umbrella in the other. Heels on, head up, lips as red as a ripe strawberry.”

Olsen, who lives in Indianapolis, often described herself as a Midwesterner to avoid her lack of resolution over the thought of which city was home. But that changed during her most recent trip back.

“I felt like I had aged out of my hometown,” she said. “I was finally coming to terms with the fact that Treynor is where I’m from, but Indianapolis is where I live.”

Ewert’s story is about going home after the death of his mother, a decade since he had last returned, and hoping that his same-sex partner would be welcomed by his father.

“My father’s unconditional love gave me the courage to bring my LGBTQ life and friends back home after many years,” he said. “It was a second chance to rebuild my relationship with my father.

“There are so many people in the LGBTQ community who struggle for acceptance within their families. Maybe (my story) will help someone who is in a similar situation,” he said.

McGregor, who works as an entrepreneur and marketer, recently published “A New Alphabet for Humanity” and she will share the story behind it.

“After having my son, I started to imagine how different the world would be if children were taught words like compassion, empathy and diversity from an early age,” she said. “I got inspired to create a new list of alphabet words to teach my son the values and qualities we all desire to live by — kindness, compassion, empathy, self-love, gratitude, respect for people and the Earth.”

WATCH: Episodes from the Storytellers Project

Learn more about the Storytellers Project and apply to tell a story in 2022 at 

Need to know

Upcoming virtual shows

  • Nov. 16: Food and Family
  • Dec.14: Holidays

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